Invacar Memories

By A.C.

I was reading an article the other day about the old three –wheeler Invacar which was developed for the disabled following WW2 and for use in the new NHS.

My mother was granted one of these little fibreglass two stroke “buggies” as they became known, at the Belvedere Hospital orthopaedic Workshop in London Road Glasgow. They were seen more like an orthotic leg. If you could not walk, then you needed something to get you about, and a three wheeler car did the job nicely, and it was not Welfare.

They were actually made with disabled people in mind. They had a big sliding door, plenty of space for a wheelchair, or other apparatus. You can still see these little cars on newsreels of Scottish Football from the 60’s – late 70s when they lined up alongside the pitch.

I learned a lot about two stroke engines and how to maintain them, as they were notoriously fickle and bad Oil/Petrol ratio mixtures had a habit of causing breakdowns leaving people stranded. Years later when working on a farm alongside the A8 in Lanarkshire, I was left quite shocked, when I saw the heavier version of the Invacar puttering along about 50mph on the dual –carriageway , which was a bit dangerous in my view, and it was then overtaken by three large buses going at high speed. The draught literally blew it off the road and it tumbled over and landed in the field beside my tractor, with the disabled driver sitting amidst a lot of shattered fibreglass and debris, and still strapped into his driving seat. The driver was unhurt, but I was rather concerned that this was his third similar accident of being blown off the road.

When I was at primary school our class were asked to write about a journey in the family car. This was a mistake right away. The majority of the class had no cars in the family.  Except those whose family were professionals and they stayed in the “posh” red sandstone houses. I was about ten at the time and my mother had not long taken delivery of her soon to be beloved Invacar. This vehicle was to provide her mobility and was to be her “legs”. This vehicle was a single-seater, and I used to crouch down on the floor in the large footwell, as the carrying of passengers was illegal. I described my journey from that point of view. The jarring rough ride sitting on the floor, the terror I felt as a this tiny vehicle was sitting at traffic lights, seeing  a tyre on a truck or lorry towering over us. The noisy, two stroke engine and being bounced around because I had no seat. I wrote this descriptive and odd story and submitted it to the smug teacher who seemed to have been hand–knitted from a pattern in the Peoples Friend.

She read the story, told me I was a liar, and to do the story again. She certainly knew how to encourage creative writing and literacy. I refused and demanded my story back to show my parents. She refused and I ran from the class and I hammered on the door of the head teacher. I demanded to get my story back to show my parents. I was “then “belted for my impertinence”. Being belted meant getting corporal punishment with a strip of leather smacked hard across your hands.  

I ran home and told my mother, who immediately got into her new car, and drove to the school playground, and parked it under the Headmasters window. She hauled herself up the fifteen or so stairs to the front door, and called out the teachers in the school corridor.  She gave them what we call in Lanarkshire, a “sherricking”- a righteous tongue-lashing so severe, that the person or persons are left red–faced and publicly humiliated. It was clear to all that the Invacar parked under the window belonged to her, and it existed.

My mother disliked smug professionals who judged people by their background and class, and who knew little of the real world.  

I got the satisfaction of seeing a severely disabled woman, discomfort and upset the staff, from their smug & class–ridden view of life. I was to pay a heavy price for that humiliation though. I was streamed deliberately to the lower school on leaving primary. That was despite having passed the “quali” or 11+ to go to the Academy. For some mysterious reason my 11+ was recalled and re-examined. I then failed by a couple of points.  Being streamed to the lower school meant whether I liked it or not, I was destined for the mines or steel works. Unlike the professionals who desperately wanted their sons or daughters to enter the Academy and go to that mysterious place “University”.

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